Thursday, May 29, 2014

At the end of the road

Afterwards, when downtown Frankfort began to thin out and the crush of vehicles both old and new began their long journeys back to their various starting points along Highway 9, KTWU Sunflower Journeys producer Bill Shaffer turned his video camera on me and asked when we were going to do another car run. The crazy rush of the day—indeed, of the past six months—had hammered me into a sudden state of insensibility, and whatever few nerves I had left were frazzled and fraying in the sudden surge of heat. I wiped the sweat from my eyes and said, “Maybe for the 200th anniversary.”

“You can’t say that,” he said.

“I can’t?”


“What can I say?”

“Five years. You’ll do it again in five years.” 

If not for the ear-to-ear smile on his face I would have called him nuts. But that selfsame smile hadn’t left his face since his departure in Concordia five hours earlier, and it didn’t appear to be in a hurry to straighten out anytime soon. His eyes were gritty and red from leaning out the open doorway of Lawrence Herrs’ 1918 Buick racing car, his knees were caked with dirt, but that smile was as undimmed as the afternoon sun.

“We’re thinking of doing it in five years,” I said, and felt wretchedly delusional for doing so.

We weren’t planning any such thing, at least not at that exact moment, but I didn’t have the heart to stand my ground. The 100th anniversary re-enactment of the inaugural 1914 Kansas White Way car run had gone off more or less without a hitch, all of the 200-plus vehicles had arrived on time with only minor adventures in motoring as I called it—a clogged fuel filter, an overheated radiator—and even the awards ceremony transpired without too many glitches including the inclusion of a secret trophy for my wife, the chief organizer and visionary behind the historic event. Now I wanted little more than strong drink and a chair to collapse in.

By the time Shaffer had squeezed out enough quotes, the street was all but deserted. An odd sort of disconnect fell that left me baffled at the absence of vehicles, an incomprehensible void between then and now as if I’d fallen asleep or passed into an alternate state of reality, only to wake in a distant time like Rip Van Winkle. Lori was already in the car with the air conditioner running, and down the street a few men were winching a Model T onto a flatbed trailer, but other than a few plastic cups rolling across the street there was nothing to indicate that only a few minutes before the town had been choked with drivers, gawkers and one hundred years of automotive body styles and permutations. 

And I’d managed to miss it all. In my haste to locate the judges, track down the mayor (who would give the opening speech), relocate the sound system and finalize the half-dozen trophies, the festivities were largely unseen. What little recollection I had was of a mass of people, cars, trucks, Cushman motorcycles and a pair of very lovely pinup models who added yet a third dimension to the event. The camera slung over my shoulder was nothing more than dead weight. The main presentation began ten minutes late, followed by an exodus of staggering efficiency. Though we’d arrived two hours early, the culmination of six months of planning was over practically before it began.

Nor did I have the luxury of commiserating over a cold beer. We were due back in Blue Rapids for a potluck dinner with a small group of “glampers,” mostly women with a fondness for blinging out vintage camping trailers. Fortunately, one of the women placed a tall glass of rum and Coke in front of me after I settled into a lawn chair—“Looks like you need this,” she said—and slowly, between the calming effect of the elixir, the quiet buzz of conversation, the cool sun-dappled shade and the unexpectedly extravagant campers, the day began to spin down to something of a normal rotation. 

There might be room for recriminations in the days to come, mostly at the lack of photographs, but at the moment there was only a sense of accomplishment. And while I wasn’t exactly thinking ahead to another car run (perish the thought!), it came to me that I should write down, while the details were fresh, the things that worked as planned and the things that didn’t, things that I would change next time or switch around, lessons learned the hard way that, if we ever decided to do it again shouldn’t have to be learned twice over, that might nevertheless be of some use to someone, not to us of course, not in five years or a hundred years, not ever again, but maybe.


shoreacres said...

I'd say five years is a good over/under. Some of the folks involved this year are going to want to make another run before they make that "final run" (to put it delicately).

It sounds like it was a wonderful, if somewhat fleeting, event. Still, we have a vintage car show here at a yacht club every year. The cars are fabulous, but they stay parked, and people just walk around and look at them. I'd say your Run sounds like ever so much more fun!

Tom Parker said...

That's what made our run so much more effective—it was the journey itself rather than the destination. I wouldn't be surprised if in five years we're doing it again, but next time I'll do everything I can to make it so that I can photograph the event like I wanted to.